Benjamin Liu developed Fluorospark, an inexpensive blood filtering kit, after losing an aunt to stage IV colon cancer. The Fluorospark system captures RNA and amplifies it to show abnormalities. Liu’s creation is the first step to creating a handheld device, completely independent of external apparatus, for the diagnosis of hundreds of infectious diseases.
Perhaps Ben Liu summed up the experience best when he wrote us and said, “I just wanted to thank you so much for the opportunity you gave me by bringing me to CES. It’s been truly an amazing experience, and I’ve learned so much. I cannot stop thinking about all of the amazing technology I was exposed to. You’ve opened up my eyes to a new world, and I am grateful for that. I will stay motivated to work even harder in college and beyond. Thank you.”
What inspired you (or your team)? *
Millions of cancer patients go undetected for years before getting their first diagnosis. By this time, conditions usually worsen beyond manageable control and survival curves begin to plummet uncontrollably. My older brother and I were spurred to take on a science fair project 5 years ago after the painful loss of our aunt to stage IV colon cancer, by creating a simple, inexpensive blood cell filtering device. We sent out over 400 emails to local researchers and professors, eager to look for some way to contribute to a cause we had so tragically been impacted by. We felt that the love toward our second mother would spur us to persevere and put in the creativity needed to make significant medical advances. After five years of research, my brother moved onto MIT to complete his education, while I continued perfecting a point-of-care system to perform on-sight detection of theoretically any nucleic acid sequence for disease detection, including and not limited to colon cancer. This project is a dedication to my aunt.
Tell us about the innovation, what materials or toolsets you used, what it does, how it works, why it is important. *
RNA-based infectious diseases have been sources of large-scale epidemics and pandemics resulting in millions of casualties worldwide. Detection of these biological agents normally involves many lab processes including sample preparation, nucleic acid separation and amplification, and detection. These steps, either performed manually using pipettes or automatedly using bulky and costly instruments, are tedious, expensive, and highly susceptible to cross-contamination. In this project, an integrated and self-contained lab-on-a-chip device was developed for sample-to-answer biological analysis of RNA-based infectious diseases. The device consists of 1) an acoustic-based micromixer that enhanced target cell lysis and mixing between target RNA and magnetic beads for RNA capture; 2) onboard reagent storage blisters that also serve as pumps and valves; 3) an electrochemical micropump; 4) single-use wax microvalves; 5) a chamber to perform RNA concentration and purification; 6) a chamber to perform RNA isothermal amplification. Acoustic micromixing was optimized to significantly reducing mixing time from 6 hr to 7 sec. The electrochemical pump was successfully demonstrated in a one-pump flow system and characterized to optimize the capture/retention of RNA. Lastly, a battery-powered portable instrument was developed to control the mechanical operation of the device. The integrated, self-contained device successfully performed sample-to-answer genetic analysis of Chlamydia Trachomatis and Mycoplasma Genitalium from human urine samples. This technology demonstrates a potential of integrating the entire genetic diagnostic process into a handheld device, completely independent of external apparatus, for the diagnosis of hundreds of infectious diseases.